Although British experts are aware of only a small number of cases in the UK, a Chinese study found that the virus affected the eyes of approximately one third of patients.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for Moorfields NHS Eye Hospital in London, one of the UK’s leading centres, called for better data collection of coronavirus-related eye conditions.
Earlier in the crisis, Government experts spent weeks downplaying the significance of the loss of taste and smell as a possible symptom, only to add it to the official case definition last week.
Robert MacLaren, professor of opthalmology at the University of Oxford, said: “Coronavirus can affect the eyes in several ways.
“It was reported in approximately one third of patients in Wuhan [the Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak] in a recent study. The ocular manifestations in the Wuhan patients included conjunctivitis, conjunctival hyperemia [red eye], chemosis [eye swelling], epiphora [watery eye] and increased secretions [sticky eye].
“Any of the above symptoms may affect vision, and affected patients would be advised to drive with caution or not at all if there was significant blurring of vision or double vision.”
It is already known that other upper respiratory tract infections can cause conjunctivitis, an irritation of the membrane covering the eye. For the majority of patients, this is mild and does not affect eyesight.